“To Cast One’s Spear and Leave”

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1.5:

Infixo aculeo fugere

Βαλὼν φεύξεσθαι οἴει; That is, once you have thrown your dart, do you think that you will escape? This is a proverbial metaphor, as when someone immediately withdraws himself after making some outcry or insult, so that he need not be compelled to attend to what he has said or receive something similar in response. Eryximachus, the doctor in Plato’s Symposium, says to Aristophanes, who is about to leave so that he will not be compelled to praise Love, and attempting to elude the question with a few jokes, Βαλών γε, φάναι, ὦ Ἀριστόφανες, οἴει ἐκφεύξεσθαι ; ἀλλὰ πρόσεχε τὸν νοῦν καὶ οὕτως λέγε ὡς δώσων λόγον. Ἴσως μέντοι, ἂν δόξῃ μοι, ἀφήσω σε, that is, It seems, Aristophanes, that you believe that you can escape after hurling that dart at us? Nay, pay attention and talk like you mean to render some reasoned argument. Then, if it seems alright to me, perhaps you may leave.

Plato employs the same expression in his Phaedo and the first book of his Republic, although he here changes the metaphor and relates it to a bather fleeing after having been splashed with water, Ταῦτα εἰπὼν ὁ Θρασύμαχος ἐν νῷ εἶχεν ἀπιέναι, ὥσπερ βαλανεὺς ἡμῶν καταντλήσας κατὰ τῶν ὤτων ἁθρόον καὶ πολὺν τὸν λόγον, that is, Having said these things, Thrasymachus had it in mind to leave, just like a bather having splashed into our ears a full many words. Shortly thereafter, he added Οἷον ἐμβαλὼν λόγον ἐν νῷ ἔχεις ἀπιέναι, that is, You are preparing to leave after discharging your own speech. Plutarch hearkened back to this proverb in his Commentary on Those Who Are Punished Late by Divinity, Ἀλλ᾿ οὐδ᾿ εἰ βαλών, εἶπεν, ἀπηλλάγη, καλῶς εἶχε περιορᾶν τὸ βέλος ἐγκείμενον, that is, If he has left after discharging his dart, it is hardly proper to neglect it once it is fixed in place.

Aristotle, in his third book of Physics, alludes to this saying. In refuting the opinion of Anaxagoras, who had said that the infinite was unmoved and consisted in itself, he says that ‘it is not enough to have simply said this and moved on’, when he ought to have explained the cause why the infinite could not be moved. Οὐ γάρ, inquit, ἱκανόν, τὸ οὕτως εἰπόντα ἀπηλλάχθαι (if I might incidentally correct the orthography, not of Aristotle, but of the printer.) He will therefore agree against those, who make something like oracular pronouncements and thereby provide material for conjecture to others, so that they need not explain why they hold that position.

The proverb seems to have been derived from bees and wasps, who fly away as soon as they fix their stingers. Plato nodded to this in his Phaedo. It may also refer to the Parthians, who would throw their darts at the enemy, quickly turn their horses, and quickly retreat without fighting face-to-face against the enemy. We can also find something very similar to this in Cicero’s forth book On the Ends of the Good, ‘I say that it is like a sharp stone on the foot of one departing, but we will see.’ Indeed, a sharp stone is often painful to walkers. He says more clearly in his oration for Lucius Flaccus, ‘what good did it do Flaccus, who enjoyed good health until he came here? Now he is dead, having discharged his dart and given his testimony.’”


Infixo aculeo fugere.v

Βαλὼν φεύξεσθαι οἴει; id est Jaculo immisso fugiturum te putas ? Metaphora proverbialis, ubi quis dicto convicio seu maleficio quopiam peracto statim subducit sese, ne vel tueri cogatur quod dixerit aut ne mutuum recipiat. Eryximachus, medicus in Convivio Platonis, Aristophani discedere paranti ne cogeretur et ipse laudare Cupidinem ac jocis quibusdam poeticis eludenti : Βαλών γε, φάναι, ὦ Ἀριστόφανες, οἴει ἐκφεύξεσθαι ; ἀλλὰ πρόσεχε τὸν νοῦν καὶ οὕτως λέγε ὡς δώσων λόγον. Ἴσως μέντοι, ἂν δόξῃ μοι, ἀφήσω σε, id est Ut videtur, inquit, Aristophanes, immisso in nos jaculo fugiturum te credis ? Quin tu animum adverte atque ita loquere tanquam rationem redditurus. Sane, si mihi videbitur, fortassis te dimittam. Utitur item in Phaedone et in primo De republica libro, quanquam hoc loco mutat metaphoram et ad balneatorem iniecta aqua discedentem refert : Ταῦτα εἰπὼν ὁ Θρασύμαχος ἐν νῷ εἶχεν ἀπιέναι, ὥσπερ βαλανεὺς ἡμῶν καταντλήσας κατὰ τῶν ὤτων ἁθρόον καὶ πολὺν τὸν λόγον, id est Haec locutus Thrasymachus in animo habebat discedere, ceu balneator quispiam offusis in aures copiosis ac multis verbis. Ac mox eodem in loco, Οἷον ἐμβαλὼν λόγον ἐν νῷ ἔχεις ἀπιέναι, id est Velut injecto dicto paras discedere. Respexit ad proverbium Plutarchus in commentario De iis, qui tarde puniuntur a numine : Ἀλλ᾿ οὐδ᾿ εἰ βαλών, εἶπεν, ἀπηλλάγη, καλῶς εἶχε περιορᾶν τὸ βέλος ἐγκείμενον, id est Quinetiam si discessit, inquit, immisso jaculo, non convenit telum inhaerens negligere. Allusit ad hanc paroemiam Aristoteles in tertio Naturalium auditionum libro. Refellens enim Anaxagorae sententiam, qui dixisset infinitum immotum esse et in seipso conquiescere, negat satis esse dixisse tantum et aufugere, cum causam etiam reddere debuerit, quamobrem infinitum moveri non posset : Οὐ γάρ, inquit, ἱκανόν, τὸ οὕτως εἰπόντα ἀπηλλάχθαι, ut obiter et orthographiam emendem, non Aristotelis, sed typographi. Quadrabit igitur in eos, qui velut oracula quaedam pronuntiant aliis conjectandi materiam ministrantes, ut qui non interpretentur quamobrem ita senserint. Translatum videtur ab apibus aut vespis, quae infixo aculeo statim aufugiunt. Id enim innuit Plato in Phaedone. Potest et ad Parthos referri, qui jaculo coniecto in hostem mox equis versis se fuga proripiunt nec audent comminus congredi. Simillimum est huic, quod est apud Ciceronem libro De finibus bonorum quarto : Scrupulum, inquam, abeunti, sed videbimus. Solet enim scrupulus esse molestus ambulantibus. Idem apertius in oratione pro L. Flacco : Flacco vero quid profuit, qui valuit tam diu dum huc prodiret ? Mortuus est aculeo jam dimisso ac dicto testimonio.

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